Clare Wenham explains why vaccine certificates are hurting society
The invitation section posts comments from a range of perspectives. For an opinion in favor of vaccination certificates, read a commentary by Ashish Jha and one on the Israel experience by Rachel Azaria. To find out more, read The Economistleader and article by.
IMAGINE IF GOVERNMENTS reintroduced leper colonies, put people with TB in ‘prisons’ and denied people with HIV / AIDS access to certain public places – all of this has happened (and continues, as with HIV restrictions for some visas). We would be appalled. Throughout history, the exclusion of people on the basis of their health has been highly discriminatory.
However, a somewhat similar logic is behind the idea of vaccine passports. Those at low risk of transmitting the virus will be allowed to re-integrate into society, and the rest will not. Although in the first examples people are sick, the larger point in all of these cases is that the state of health becomes the means of determining an individual’s right to participate in social, civic and economic life – and global society will become on two levels.
The appeal of vaccination certificates is understandable. Businesses and governments see them as essential for reopening society and reinvigorating failed economies. Several places have implemented or approved programs, including Israel and countries of the European Union. But it is a dangerous policy that could set free demons that we will live with for years to come. There are much better ways to manage public health and open the economy that do not divide society.
While some critics worry about the privacy implications of vaccine certificates, concerns about fairness run deeper.
The past year has revealed the vast inequalities in societies. Blacks, Latin Americans, Asians and other ethnic groups have been disproportionately affected, given their exposure to the virus in frontline jobs and denser housing. At the same time, disadvantaged socio-economic groups, women and other marginalized communities have faced greater job losses and economic hardship. Vaccine certificates reproduce these inequalities at a time when we should take steps to better integrate these people into society.
In addition, vaccination passports discriminate against people who have no control over the ability to get vaccinated. Many groups are unable to get vaccinated or may reasonably hesitate due to the risks, such as pregnant women in some places for safety reasons (although policy is changing), people with certain autoimmune diseases (for which safety data is unclear), and those with allergies to vaccine ingredients. Children also cannot access the vaccine. If they are unable to participate in public activities, this will limit the interaction of their guardians in society, especially for women, who bear the majority of the parenting burden.
Then there are those who do not wish to be vaccinated. Although vaccine passports are meant to encourage vaccines – and I look forward to getting one myself – individual decision-making should be respected as a central tenet of liberal democracy and on the basis of l body autonomy.
Internationally, vaccination certificates discriminate against people in the south of the world who cannot get vaccinated. Countries in Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are not expected to have full immunization coverage until at least 2023. Requiring a vaccination passport for travel would mean that these people, especially those who are economically active, are would be prohibited. This would not only affect individuals who are confined within national borders, unlike those in the North, but their economies will experience less growth and be less competitive. The ramifications for emerging economies would last for decades.
It is striking that all vaccines are not created equal in the eyes of policymakers. We could easily slip into a scenario where specific vaccine manufacturers are listed on certificates, with governments only allowing individuals to cross borders who have received doses approved by their national regulatory authorities. We are already seeing seeds of it, with Iceland releasing a list of approved vaccines for which recipients are not required to quarantine after a negative covid-19 test. Such a policy could block those who have received the Russian Sputnik V vaccine or the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, both widely administered in Central and South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
Some critics dispute the fairness argument. They note that vaccines are required by some public school systems for children’s access to education (with some exceptions). That’s true, but it’s also ethically contested whether the state can force people to get vaccinated. Others point out that such policies already exist, with yellow fever certificates for international travel issued by the World Health Organization. The difference, however, is that the supply of yellow fever vaccines is not constrained by a limited supply of vaccines, and the certificates only allow cross-border travel, not public participation in daily civic life.
Vaccine passports are an affront to anti-discrimination rules. Most countries have some form of anti-discrimination law. Globally, under the WHO International Health Regulations, countries cannot implement border control measures that could be discriminatory, such as vaccine passports. Although governments routinely flout WHO rules, we should not tolerate it any further by accepting vaccine passports. It should be noted that the WHO position is that countries should not need it, recognizing in part the potential to fuel inequalities.
Is there a way to resolve the tensions between supporters and opponents of vaccine passports? Yes. Certificates are only needed to separate “vaxxed” from “vaxxed nots”. A better solution is to reduce the number of unvaccinated people through an immediate expansion of global vaccine production, facilitated by waiving intellectual property rights and requiring the transfer of technology from US and European pharmaceutical companies to developing countries. development. In this way, the world can be vaccinated quickly, avoiding the need for certificate systems in the first place.
The question can be boiled down to one that has affected many dimensions of governments’ response to the pandemic: To what extent should society prioritize economic reopening rather than the risk of deepening inequality? Unfortunately, governments have responded to this by accepting the idea of vaccination certificates and not prohibiting companies from imposing vaccination requirements.
Thus begins a new phase in society, where the state of health of a person dictates what he can do in life. While this invites further discrimination, especially against marginalized people, the blame rests not only with the governments that allowed it, but with all those who did not speak out against it.
Clare Wenham is Associate Professor of Global Health Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he studies politics and global health security policy.